I don't have a great affection for loud holiday celebrations. Not that there's anything wrong with them. Mine just happens to be a subdued personality shunning large and loud crowds. But when your kids want to see the ball drop in New York City, you put your prejudices aside and take the plunge. One must experience everything at least once, with some exceptions of course.
My take: it was miserable. This comes close to the concept of cruel and unusual punishment, except that people actually choose to or are chosen to do it. We actually started out late. Some accounts have people arriving at Times Square at dawn on new year's day. Our train reached the Grand Central Station around 9 PM and as we emerged from the station we were welcomed by a blast of arctic air. In fact it was one of coldest new year's eves recorded in New York City.
We joined the throngs of people trying to make their way to Times Square but we soon ran into blockades and barricades set up by the police to prevent people from going any further east than fifth avenue. The police kept sending people further up to make the crossing to Broadway and we kept going until we hit Central Park. We were finally able to cross eastward and after passing security check we were stopped once again by more barricades and told that no more people will be allowed in.
Cold and miserable we turned around and backtracked our way to possibly find another way in. By that time the kids just wanted to go home, but we pressed on, refueling with a couple of expensive pretzels bought from a street vendor and hot beverages in a Starbucks store with one of the longest bathroom lines I had ever seen. I pity the person who has to clean up that mess.
In the end we settled for watching the ball from the corner of W 44th and 6th. Standing in the cold, pressed in the crowds for an hour, we saw the ball drop, go dark and the ensuing fireworks erupt. People cheered as best as the could in that chill, but the whole event seemed anti-climatic to me. I was just happy that kids actually saw what we came to see. As we settled in for the train ride back home, I was just happy to realize that with my duty fulfilled, I don't have to come back to this event ever again.
If you are brave (or crazy) enough to want to see the ball drop, here's a short list of rules to consider based on my experience:
- Expect the worst but bring your best and most patient attitude. It's cold, you'll walk a lot, stand a lot, will get pushed and pulled and pressed a lot. Short fuses won't stand a chance.
- Stay away from drinks (soft or hard drinks). Bathroom opportunities are nearly non-existent.
- Dress warmly (heavy coats, hats, gloves, etc). Have something to eat. Your body needs the energy to fight the cold and the stress.
- Don't believe what the cops tell you when you ask them a question. They are generally courteous and friendly, but their primary task is crowd control and safety. To them you are like cattle being herded into a slaughterhouse. About the only truthful statement they will tell you is that you can't cross. Everything else is said to keep you calm and keep you hoping that you can eventually get to your destination while you're going in circles.
- Don't expect a surreal experience or anything. It’s just a flashing ball sliding down a pole with a bit of fireworks at the end. It's way overrated and not that exciting.
- Finally, if you missed the big party, don't despair. Starting this year, you can see the ball year-round. Ok, it's not the same thing as being there when the year flips over, but you'll have a front-row seat any other day.
Have a happy and healthy 2009.